The Mayor of Hell


1h 20m 1933
The Mayor of Hell

Brief Synopsis

A racketeer goes straight to run a reform school.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 24, 1933
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
The Vitaphone Corp.; Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

Racketeer Patsy Gargan is made deputy commissioner of a reform school as a reward from his corrupt political cronies. Initially, he has no interest in the school, but his sympathy for the boys, who grew up in the slums as he did, and his attraction to the resident nurse, Dorothy Griffith, convince him to take the job seriously. He sends Thompson, the superintendent, on vacation and while he is gone, implements Dorothy's ideas for reform. The school is functioning well under a system of self-government when Patsy is called back to the city to take care of some political business. Patsy shoots another man during a fight and has to go into hiding. Thompson returns to the school and convinces the boys that Patsy has abandoned them. He then starts running things the old way, and when Dorothy protests, he fires her. Then one of the boys, Johnny Stone, dies while in solitary confinement and the boys rebel. Dorothy finds Patsy in his hideout and tells him the whole story. Patsy races back to the school to restore order, having decided to give up his political job to run the school permanently.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Crime
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jun 24, 1933
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
The Vitaphone Corp.; Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 20m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Articles

The Mayor of Hell - James Cagney is THE MAYOR OF HELL - Warner Bros. Gangster Saga on DVD


1933's The Mayor of Hell is a quickie James Cagney vehicle, and not one of his best. A reform school follow-up to Warners' smash hit I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, it's far too contrived and melodramatic to serve as a proper exposé. Yet the story is far more believable than MGM and Dore Schary's saccharine success Boys Town. It's a gangster film only by tangent, as Cagney's racketeer makes a rather instantaneous conversion to the side of virtue, encouraged, of course, by true love.

Synopsis: City crook Patsy Gargan (James Cagney) delivers votes to a political boss and is rewarded with a no-show job as superintendent for a state reform school. Seeing the terrible conditions and cruel methods of school director Thompson (Dudley Digges), Patsy takes over the job in earnest. He sympathizes with the boys, and is also attracted to the school nurse, Dorothy Griffith (Madge Evans). The reform school becomes a model community overnight after Patsy follows Dorothy's suggestions to dismiss the guards and set the boys to governing themselves. But Thompson plots to regain control, while Gargan's hoodlum underlings back in the city move to oust him from their ranks. In Patsy's absence, Dorothy is fired and the school erupts in violence. Can Patsy put it all back together?

The Mayor of Hell attempts to fit James Cagney within a more socially conscious film concept, an idea resisted by the feisty star's unique screen personality. Patsy Gargan can't simultaneously be a corrupt city crook and also a softhearted, democracy-loving patriot, so the film never grabs our emotions. An extended prologue shows Frankie Darro's adolescent gang running a protection racket for parked cars, a sequence that's practically a how-to lesson for petty extortion. Sent up the river for a candy store holdup, Darro and fellow gang members (including the Jewish-American ethnic stereotype played by Sidney Miller) end up in a gulag-like reform school. Thompson feeds the kids pig slop and pockets the school budget for himself. Tough kid Darro tries to escape and gets caught in a barbed wire fence; the sadistic school director whips him as he hangs there.

Before you can say "FDR's New Deal", Patsy and pretty Dorothy Griffith bestow the gift of democracy on the school. Simply by steering the right candidates into jobs in the school government, Patsy is able to shape the destiny of his new socialist mini-republic. Patsy gives the highest jobs to the school's most powerful gang leaders, who miraculously become little Thomas Jeffersons and Benjamin Franklins. The only threat to this paradise comes from the evil director Thompson, who enlists a craven snitch to provoke trouble and discredit Patsy.

Back in the city, Patsy spends only about two minutes with his old gang, just long enough to get him in hot water over an inadvertent shooting. But Dorothy remains true to her man, and the two return to the reform school just in time to prevent the whole place from burning down. Infuriated when Thompson allows a sick student to die, the boys riot and burn down the barn. The kids convene a vigilante court to try the director, a scene that smacks of populism gone out of control. Thompson perishes violently, but the final curtain shows the respected judge lending his blessing to Patsy and Dorothy's noble reform experiment. Gargan asks to run the school permanently.

The previous year's I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang practically advocated revolution and anarchy, but The Mayor of Hell takes pains not to besmirch America's reform schools. Only the rotten apple Thompson is bad, and not the system in general, as evidenced by the presence of a good-hearted prison guard. The film's image of city politics is something else again. With gangsters controlling the public vote Democracy is joke, and The Mayor of Hell doesn't even pretend that anything can be done about it. Cagney's Gargan simply walks away from the mess downtown, letting somebody else take his place in the corrupt system.

Cagney is acceptable in an undemanding role and pretty Madge Evans hasn't much to do besides offer support. Frankie Darro and the other hoodlums are sentimental good boys at heart, cutting a groove that the Dead End Kids would soon fill. As the rotten school director, Dudley Digges is as hiss-able as Simon Legree.

The Mayor of Hell comes with a full 'Warner's Night at the Movies' selection of extras that includes a 1933 newsreel excerpt (not too exciting), a musical short subject (The Audition), a Merrie Melodies cartoon (The Organ Grinder) and various trailers. Author Greg Mank provides a good, well-researched commentary. He knows the film's entire shooting schedule as well as the backgrounds of all the actors. Five-foot three-inch Frankie Darrow played many a jockey and bellboy, and also was inside the Robby the Robot suit in Forbidden Planet. Sidney Miller is the father of actor Barry Miller and Madge Evans was married to playwright Sidney Kingsley, who, appropriately, wrote the original play of Dead End. Allen "Farina" Hoskins plays Smoke, the black member of Darrow's street gang.

Warners must have found The Mayor of Hell a useful property, for it was remade twice, as Crime School (1938) and Hell's Kitchen (1939). The disc contains trailers for all three movies.

For more information about The Mayor of Hell, visit Warner Video. To order The Mayor of Hell, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson
The Mayor Of Hell - James Cagney Is The Mayor Of Hell - Warner Bros. Gangster Saga On Dvd

The Mayor of Hell - James Cagney is THE MAYOR OF HELL - Warner Bros. Gangster Saga on DVD

1933's The Mayor of Hell is a quickie James Cagney vehicle, and not one of his best. A reform school follow-up to Warners' smash hit I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, it's far too contrived and melodramatic to serve as a proper exposé. Yet the story is far more believable than MGM and Dore Schary's saccharine success Boys Town. It's a gangster film only by tangent, as Cagney's racketeer makes a rather instantaneous conversion to the side of virtue, encouraged, of course, by true love. Synopsis: City crook Patsy Gargan (James Cagney) delivers votes to a political boss and is rewarded with a no-show job as superintendent for a state reform school. Seeing the terrible conditions and cruel methods of school director Thompson (Dudley Digges), Patsy takes over the job in earnest. He sympathizes with the boys, and is also attracted to the school nurse, Dorothy Griffith (Madge Evans). The reform school becomes a model community overnight after Patsy follows Dorothy's suggestions to dismiss the guards and set the boys to governing themselves. But Thompson plots to regain control, while Gargan's hoodlum underlings back in the city move to oust him from their ranks. In Patsy's absence, Dorothy is fired and the school erupts in violence. Can Patsy put it all back together? The Mayor of Hell attempts to fit James Cagney within a more socially conscious film concept, an idea resisted by the feisty star's unique screen personality. Patsy Gargan can't simultaneously be a corrupt city crook and also a softhearted, democracy-loving patriot, so the film never grabs our emotions. An extended prologue shows Frankie Darro's adolescent gang running a protection racket for parked cars, a sequence that's practically a how-to lesson for petty extortion. Sent up the river for a candy store holdup, Darro and fellow gang members (including the Jewish-American ethnic stereotype played by Sidney Miller) end up in a gulag-like reform school. Thompson feeds the kids pig slop and pockets the school budget for himself. Tough kid Darro tries to escape and gets caught in a barbed wire fence; the sadistic school director whips him as he hangs there. Before you can say "FDR's New Deal", Patsy and pretty Dorothy Griffith bestow the gift of democracy on the school. Simply by steering the right candidates into jobs in the school government, Patsy is able to shape the destiny of his new socialist mini-republic. Patsy gives the highest jobs to the school's most powerful gang leaders, who miraculously become little Thomas Jeffersons and Benjamin Franklins. The only threat to this paradise comes from the evil director Thompson, who enlists a craven snitch to provoke trouble and discredit Patsy. Back in the city, Patsy spends only about two minutes with his old gang, just long enough to get him in hot water over an inadvertent shooting. But Dorothy remains true to her man, and the two return to the reform school just in time to prevent the whole place from burning down. Infuriated when Thompson allows a sick student to die, the boys riot and burn down the barn. The kids convene a vigilante court to try the director, a scene that smacks of populism gone out of control. Thompson perishes violently, but the final curtain shows the respected judge lending his blessing to Patsy and Dorothy's noble reform experiment. Gargan asks to run the school permanently. The previous year's I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang practically advocated revolution and anarchy, but The Mayor of Hell takes pains not to besmirch America's reform schools. Only the rotten apple Thompson is bad, and not the system in general, as evidenced by the presence of a good-hearted prison guard. The film's image of city politics is something else again. With gangsters controlling the public vote Democracy is joke, and The Mayor of Hell doesn't even pretend that anything can be done about it. Cagney's Gargan simply walks away from the mess downtown, letting somebody else take his place in the corrupt system. Cagney is acceptable in an undemanding role and pretty Madge Evans hasn't much to do besides offer support. Frankie Darro and the other hoodlums are sentimental good boys at heart, cutting a groove that the Dead End Kids would soon fill. As the rotten school director, Dudley Digges is as hiss-able as Simon Legree. The Mayor of Hell comes with a full 'Warner's Night at the Movies' selection of extras that includes a 1933 newsreel excerpt (not too exciting), a musical short subject (The Audition), a Merrie Melodies cartoon (The Organ Grinder) and various trailers. Author Greg Mank provides a good, well-researched commentary. He knows the film's entire shooting schedule as well as the backgrounds of all the actors. Five-foot three-inch Frankie Darrow played many a jockey and bellboy, and also was inside the Robby the Robot suit in Forbidden Planet. Sidney Miller is the father of actor Barry Miller and Madge Evans was married to playwright Sidney Kingsley, who, appropriately, wrote the original play of Dead End. Allen "Farina" Hoskins plays Smoke, the black member of Darrow's street gang. Warners must have found The Mayor of Hell a useful property, for it was remade twice, as Crime School (1938) and Hell's Kitchen (1939). The disc contains trailers for all three movies. For more information about The Mayor of Hell, visit Warner Video. To order The Mayor of Hell, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

The Mayor of Hell


James Cagney may have played a lot of loose-cannon gangsters in his day, but his aggressive big-screen image was quite the opposite of his real-life personality. He's long been considered one of the nicest, most generous men to ever achieve icon status in Hollywood. Nevertheless, the feistiness that drove his characters had to exist somewhere in his real-life makeup, and it usually revealed itself when he dealt with the mechanics of the studio system. Cagney wasn't shy about complaining when he felt he was being over-worked. In fact, he had a reputation among studio executives for doing just that.

The Mayor of Hell (1933), a brutal potboiler that's saved by Cagney's cocksure performance, is a case in point. Shot very quickly, and on a shoestring budget, it was hardly the kind of thing that this would-be hoofer hoped to be stuck doing for the rest of his career, no matter how popular it turned out to be. Cagney stars as Patsy Gargan, a gangster who pulls a few strings to get himself appointed as "deputy inspector" of what turns out to be a corrupt reform school. When he arrives to assume his post, Gargan sees that the school's charges are being viciously mistreated by several guards, under the supervision of sadistic Warden Thompson (Dudley Digges.) After falling in love with a nurse (Madge Evans) who wants to do right by the boys, Gargan quickly turns things around at the school. However, he eventually abandons the kids and returns to his thuggish ways, which leads to a climax that left period audiences more than satisfied, regardless of the generous bouts of illogic that preceded it.

Though The Mayor of Hell wasn't exactly a highlight of his career, Cagney made special mention of its grueling shoot in his autobiography, Cagney on Cagney: "...I was kept plenty busy, and I mean literally to all hours. Frequently, we worked until three or four in the morning. I'd look over, and there'd be the director, Archie Mayo, sitting with his head thrown back, sawing away. He was tired; we were all tired. This kind of pressure the studio put on us because they wanted to get the thing done as cheaply as possible. At times we started at nine in the morning. This pounding drive we kept up during my time at Warner's from 1930 to 1934 on a pretty unvarying schedule."

Cagney wasn't kidding. The shoot took thirty-six days to complete, at a cost of $229,000, a miniscule sum, even in those days. Many critics complained that the script could have used work, but Cagney's two-fisted appeal, a fiery finish, and an enjoyable supporting turn by Allen Jenkins, assured that The Mayor of Hell did decent business at the box office. Humphrey Bogart even starred in a 1938 remake called Crime School, which, for whatever reason, utilized much of the exact wording of the original maligned screenplay! However, without Cagney there to steer the rickety ship ­ Bogart's smoldering brand of intensity is all wrong for the character, especially if you've seen Cagney pull it off with such roughhouse gusto ­ the picture went nowhere.

Directed by: Archie Mayo
Screenplay: Edward Chodorov
Story: Islin Auster
Photography: Barney McGill
Editing: Jack Killifer
Art Direction: Esdras Hartley
Principal Cast: James Cagney (Patsy Gargan), Madge Evans (Dorothy Griffith), Arthur Byron (Judge Gilbert), Allen Jenkins (Mike), Dudley Digges (Thompson), Frankie Darro (Jimmy Smith), Sheila Terry (The Girl), Robert Barrat (Mr. Smith), Farina (Smoke), Harold Huber (Joe), Dorothy Peterson (Mrs. Smith), George Pat Collins (Brandon), Edwin Maxwell (Louis Johnston), John Marston (Hopkins), Mickey Bennett (Butch), Sidney Miller (Izzy).
B&W-85m.

by Paul Tatara

The Mayor of Hell

James Cagney may have played a lot of loose-cannon gangsters in his day, but his aggressive big-screen image was quite the opposite of his real-life personality. He's long been considered one of the nicest, most generous men to ever achieve icon status in Hollywood. Nevertheless, the feistiness that drove his characters had to exist somewhere in his real-life makeup, and it usually revealed itself when he dealt with the mechanics of the studio system. Cagney wasn't shy about complaining when he felt he was being over-worked. In fact, he had a reputation among studio executives for doing just that. The Mayor of Hell (1933), a brutal potboiler that's saved by Cagney's cocksure performance, is a case in point. Shot very quickly, and on a shoestring budget, it was hardly the kind of thing that this would-be hoofer hoped to be stuck doing for the rest of his career, no matter how popular it turned out to be. Cagney stars as Patsy Gargan, a gangster who pulls a few strings to get himself appointed as "deputy inspector" of what turns out to be a corrupt reform school. When he arrives to assume his post, Gargan sees that the school's charges are being viciously mistreated by several guards, under the supervision of sadistic Warden Thompson (Dudley Digges.) After falling in love with a nurse (Madge Evans) who wants to do right by the boys, Gargan quickly turns things around at the school. However, he eventually abandons the kids and returns to his thuggish ways, which leads to a climax that left period audiences more than satisfied, regardless of the generous bouts of illogic that preceded it. Though The Mayor of Hell wasn't exactly a highlight of his career, Cagney made special mention of its grueling shoot in his autobiography, Cagney on Cagney: "...I was kept plenty busy, and I mean literally to all hours. Frequently, we worked until three or four in the morning. I'd look over, and there'd be the director, Archie Mayo, sitting with his head thrown back, sawing away. He was tired; we were all tired. This kind of pressure the studio put on us because they wanted to get the thing done as cheaply as possible. At times we started at nine in the morning. This pounding drive we kept up during my time at Warner's from 1930 to 1934 on a pretty unvarying schedule." Cagney wasn't kidding. The shoot took thirty-six days to complete, at a cost of $229,000, a miniscule sum, even in those days. Many critics complained that the script could have used work, but Cagney's two-fisted appeal, a fiery finish, and an enjoyable supporting turn by Allen Jenkins, assured that The Mayor of Hell did decent business at the box office. Humphrey Bogart even starred in a 1938 remake called Crime School, which, for whatever reason, utilized much of the exact wording of the original maligned screenplay! However, without Cagney there to steer the rickety ship ­ Bogart's smoldering brand of intensity is all wrong for the character, especially if you've seen Cagney pull it off with such roughhouse gusto ­ the picture went nowhere. Directed by: Archie Mayo Screenplay: Edward Chodorov Story: Islin Auster Photography: Barney McGill Editing: Jack Killifer Art Direction: Esdras Hartley Principal Cast: James Cagney (Patsy Gargan), Madge Evans (Dorothy Griffith), Arthur Byron (Judge Gilbert), Allen Jenkins (Mike), Dudley Digges (Thompson), Frankie Darro (Jimmy Smith), Sheila Terry (The Girl), Robert Barrat (Mr. Smith), Farina (Smoke), Harold Huber (Joe), Dorothy Peterson (Mrs. Smith), George Pat Collins (Brandon), Edwin Maxwell (Louis Johnston), John Marston (Hopkins), Mickey Bennett (Butch), Sidney Miller (Izzy). B&W-85m. by Paul Tatara

Quotes

Tell us what you know, I said! Never mind what you think!
- Lawyer
Excuse me, boss. I ain't no lawyer. I can't talk without thinkin'.
- Mr. Hemingway

Trivia

Notes

The film's pre-release title was Reform School. The film took thirty-six shooting days and was made for a total cost of $229,000, according to production records included in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library. Modern sources add the following cast: Adrian Morris (Car owner), Fred "Snowflake" Toones (Hemingway), Wilfred Lucas (Guard), Bob Perry and Charles Sullivan (Collectors) and Ben Taggart (Sheriff). Modern sources add the following crew credits Makeup, Perc Westmore and Assistant Director, Frank Shaw. Islin Auster's story was remade by Warner Bros. in 1938 as Crime School.